- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 16, 2005

LONDON.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is in New Delhi today to attend an India-Pakistan cricket match.

Weightier matters, however, have been on his agenda since arriving in the Indian capital — moving the peace process forward over Kashmir’s future chief among them. Making Kashmir’s embattled residents central to the search for peace is the best route toward a durable solution to an issue that three times has embroiled these nuclear powers in war.

There has been a series of transformational events in South Asia in the last month in the run-up to Mr. Musharraf’s cricket tour that makes peace genuinely attainable. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the region in mid-March sparked a major policy shift in Washington when the Bush administration announced it would sell non-nuclear capable F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan and make available to India advanced F-18s and other strategic military assets.

The jet sale calms Islamabad’s blustery generals who can now find solace in restored conventional arms parity with their stronger neighbor. Now perhaps they can give peace efforts in Kashmir a real chance by withdrawing support for a militant insurgency aimed at destabilizing New Delhi. Certainly, the F-16 deal reduces Mr. Musharraf’s reliance on his nuclear arsenal as the only way to ensure Pakistan’s national security.

India’s prime minister, the ever-pragmatic Manmohan Singh, made the requisite noises for domestic political consumption about its nuclear neighbor getting the weapons to start a nuclear war. Then he opened bus service between Indian-controlled Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir’s main city, Muzaffarabad. It wasn’t easy to reunite Kashmir’s battered families after an almost 20-year insurgency. Insurgents blew up the station the first bus departed from and hurled grenades as the bus crossed the bridge to Pakistan.

But the bus trip paled in comparison to the quiet, unheralded

Ghandi-like diplomacy of one of Kashmir’s best-known in-surgents-turned-peacemakers — Yasin Malik.

Mr. Malik is chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and a leader of the All Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC) that conglomerates Kashmir’s fractious insurgents. He was instrumental in persuading the hard-line APHC elements backed by Pakistan’s intelligence services to allow New Delhi’s olive branch to take root when former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee stilled his security forces in the now well-chronicled “Ramadan cease-fire” in late summer and fall 2000.

On March 15, Mr. Malik took a page from Mahatma Ghandi’s playbook and showed up in New Delhi with 14 trunks packed with the “voice of Kashmiris” — 1.5 million individual signatures (twice the number of those who voted in Kashmir’s last elections) collected over two years that confirmed “the Kashmiri people’s verdict for peace and inclusion in the India-Pakistan dialogue.” It was a foundation stone for peace that nary a politician from Washington to New Delhi seemed to comprehend or acknowledge.

Resolving Kashmir should remain first and foremost about saving its ravaged people from extremists on both sides of the Line of Control dividing them today.

Mr. Malik’s ballots show how deeply Kashmiris want to be free from being caught between a rage defined on one side by Islamabad’s military paranoia and insecurity and on the other by the intransigent New Delhi civil authority’s insistence on ruling a Muslim population against its will.

It is time both India and Pakistan made the Kashmiri people the centerpiece of efforts to resolve the conflict, and to assert their most fundamental human right of all — freedom to determine their destiny. Mr. Malik’s consolidation of Kashmiri voices from every corner of the Himalayan state is the surest sign yet that a deep yearning for self-determination and the will to accept the responsibilities of free choice are in the hearts and souls of a majority of its residents.

Mr. Musharraf and Mr. Singh no longer can ignore these voices. And there may never be a better time in the India-Pakistan relationship — considered by most observers to be cresting — to use them to determine Kashmir’s destiny.

At the time of this writing, Mr. Singh is considering a meeting with APHC representatives during Mr. Musharraf’s visit, a sign the pragmatist Indian leader understands what Mr. Malik brought to his doorstep in those trunks.

He should not only meet them, but allow Mr. Musharraf to meet with Mr. Malik and others during the visit as well.

Giving Kashmiris a voice is particularly important for Pakistan because Mr. Musharraf must be able to tell his generals and jihadists their steadfast support for the Kashmiri people enabled them to negotiate a self-determined solution with New Delhi. Both antagonists could then slip out of the conflict, faces saved, under the cover of Kashmiri self-rule.

For its part, New Delhi — where the Ghandian legacy not only rules but is embraced by a new generation — should resurrect its doctrine of empowering people.

Perhaps Indian-ruled Kashmiris would not be so desperate to leave India politically if they could tangibly reap the dividends of New Delhi’s oft-stated support for their political and human rights. Transferring power transfers responsibility, which in turn builds the framework for good governance.

India and Pakistan have a compelling moral responsibility to restore the lives and culture of some of the most peaceful and dignified people on Earth. This cricket tour has a more than sporting chance to be an eventful one.

Mansoor Ijaz, chairman of Crescent Investment Management in New York, was joint author of the blueprint for the July 2000 cease-fire by Muslim militants in Indian-ruled Kashmir.

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